Til Proven Innocent
recognize an individual's right to be considered innocent until
proven guilty in court. This is known as the presumption of innocence,
and is a fundamental tenet of law in many modern countries. However,
as has been reported in many free-minded, libertarian-oriented publications
and communities, this is changing.
Take the following
citizen and acquaintance of mine, Jim* has lived
as a PT (perpetual traveler) for many years, having sold a successful
business and thus having the financial means to do as he pleases.
While he has no wife or children, he returns to the US periodically
to see his sister and other extended family. Jim has had an arrangement
with his sister, Donna*, for several years, whereby
she assists with his financial management. His funds are in the
US, and he lives inexpensively overseas, so he keeps on hand just
what he needs. When requested, Donna withdraws cash from his US
bank account (she is, of course, authorized to do so), and sends
the funds to him via Western Union - always less than $10,000. For
some time this system has worked well for them with no complications
... until late last year.
The last time
Donna went to Western Union to send her brother funds, she was unsuccessful.
Upon entering all the data into the computer, the Western Union
employee told Donna that her transaction was denied and would not
be accepted. Furthermore, she was told, she would never again be
permitted to use any Western Union office to send funds anywhere
in the world. Why? Because she was summarily, on the spot, placed
on a nationwide Terrorist Watch List. Just like that. It so happened
that her grandson, Noah*, was with her, so she
asked him to complete the transaction. Noah had never used the services
of Western Union before. Nevertheless, when he attempted to complete
the transaction the result was the same; another name added to the
Terrorist Watch List.
that he had tried to resolve the issue with Western Union by phoning
them. It's nearly impossible to reach a person by phone, he said,
but eventually he did correspond with them via email. They said
they would arrange a phone interview with him, to give him an opportunity
to explain his circumstances. He agreed to this, but has not had
an interview, nor given a date for one.
Donna was contacted via email by Western Union. They informed her,
after apparently reviewing her record of transactions, that her
monthly income was not sufficient to cover the sums that she was
sending overseas. They wanted to know where the money came from,
and were not satisfied when she explained the arrangement she had
with her brother. They asked her to provide her financial records,
bank statements and proof of income. Donna politely declined.
What are the
possible implications of these events for Jim and his family? The
issue remains unresolved, and, while he was permitted to fly out
of the US, one wonders what will happen the next time Jim tries
to enter the country. Since he was the intended recipient of the
transferred funds, is he also a member of the (not too exclusive)
Terrorist Watch List club? What will happen to him is anyone's guess.
living in the US, may be subject to all manner of scrutiny. Everywhere
she goes, everything she does, every financial transaction, phone
call, and internet keystroke, may be recorded and stored for eternity,
to potentially be used against her if she so much as jaywalks. She
may be prevented from traveling outside the US, or detained upon
But the one
who concerns me most is Noah, the grandson. In his early twenties,
he has his whole adult life ahead of him, under the watchful eye
of Big Brother. Consider how having his name on a Terrorist Watch
List might affect him. Every school, every employer, and every professional
or social organization that performs a background check on him,
may learn his status. Any time he opens a bank account, applies
for a loan or mortgage, buys a car, opens an investment account,
or any number of other ordinary activities, a red flag may appear.
Will Noah be permitted to obtain a passport if he does not yet have
one? Will he be permitted to travel outside the US? Will his name
be on the list indefinitely? Does he have any recourse to clear
his name and have it removed from the list? To whom does he appeal?
fall into the same trap?
does not seem to be much rhyme or reason to the way innocent people
get snagged by the system, there are a couple of common sense lessons
to be learned from this.
handle other people's money. If you must, send it through the banking
system if possible. It certainly won't be as simple as Western Union,
but it may help to avoid raising a red flag.
you are the PT living overseas, don't rely on a relative or friend
to send you cash. Rather, set up multiple bank accounts in different
places that you haunt regularly, along with a debit card for each
account. That way, one or two systems can have hiccups without much
effect on your life. Give some thought to using a global bank, like
HSBC, that offer specific programs catering to Perpetual Travelers.
(It is worth
mentioning that using large international banks is not done for
asset diversification reasons. For that purpose, you want to choose
a relatively well-insulated institution not exposed to the rigours
of the worldwide banking system.)
may be no guaranteed way to avoid ending up on a Terrorist Watch
List, avoiding practices that involve others can lower the risk
- for ourselves and for them.
reasons, names have been changed.
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